“Average managers play checkers. Great managers play chess,” said Marcus Buckingham last Thursday morning live-streaming from his office in Beverly Hills.

I sat there silently at his conference table behind the cameras trying to piece together what that meant for me. As he continued to interview with CredibilityLive host, Michael Hutchison, my thoughts slipped away to makes sense of it.

It didn’t take long. Marcus has a way with words that makes understanding rather momentary. I’m certain it has a bit to do with his knock-out British accent (charming accent, that), but more importantly with his honest intention to urge others towards examining their own strengths.

My favorite part of the day growing up was when my father would return from work and play checkers with me. We were both creatures of routine and I adored the way that my game pieces each had the same power as my dad’s. There was no hierarchy, just chronic know-how.

As I got older, the once comforting routine lacked any sense of daring and it was time to move on. Marcus would have been proud.

Making sense of it: While checkers gifts us with the much needed fundamentals for getting in the game, it is the intricacies of chess that allow us to figure out how individual pieces can and should contribute to the overall plan. A great manager figures out who’s the knight, the queen and the pawn – and never underestimates a single one of them.

A few weeks ago, during Harvard Business Review’s weekly twitter chat, they asked, “Do you lead ‘through’ your teams, or manage people individually? What works best?” The responses were loyal to the checkers vs. chess model (e.g.):

Marcus also said, “Look to how you feel before, during and after an activity”. My mind channeled that inevitably grand collapse after a good long jog. You know – those few moments where you can feel all the blood and energy coursing through each limb. Out the fingertips and toes and through the switches in your noggin?

Next time you feel that energy, remind yourself of your unique strengths. Let us know what you come up with – I’m sure Mr. Buckingham will love the feedback.  Stream of consciousness more than welcome.

  • What brought you to that moment?
  • What do you love?
  • How can you make that work for you?
  • How can you marry your needs with the needs of your company?
  • How do you win?